Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Consciousness, movement, learning (take two! )

Well, a quick attempt to reconstruct the basics of what I lost, before it's gone ....

I have one small class each week that give me more inspiration for writing than any of my others. I found this interesting. It isn't that they are more advanced, because they are not, or that they ask more questions, which they don't either. What questions I get tend to be pretty focused on the movement, more like "how" than "what if" stuff. What they do, however, is go over techniques as much as I ask of them. Why is this important? Because it provides a feedback loop between teacher and student that enhances progressive development.

Too much time talking in class can diffuse energy from work that actually needs to be done. I appreciate questions, but it is important for students to put time into grasping the details. Some people don't think repetition is important. They can ask a question, or I can tell them to work on something, and a moment later they've gone on to something else. The feedback loop doesn't happen, because they haven't demonstrated anything new and I cannot see if they got it.

Repetition builds motor memory, burning more efficient neuromuscular pathways so thought is translated more effortlessly into movement. Ganglia switches are pre-primed to fire established patterns. This is why perfect practice makes perfect, whereas vague or unfocused practice does not yield the same results, and why bad habits are best corrected early, so as to have less to overcome, and more time to learn things right.

Here is where conscious awareness is important. There are three phases of a responsive movement. Perception, thought, action. The first is pretty much automatic, genetically set. The last is also somewhat restricted by natural ability, but can be fine-tuned by polishing away the rough spots. Wasn't this the premise of Bruce Lee and of Michelangelo, to eliminate the unnecessary to reveal the essential? Only through repetition can we accomplish this level of refinement.

The middle area, thought, is where we can do the most tweaking. It helps to be able to conceive of different levels of consciousness. The first is the subconscious, where we program our physical selves and recall memory. The second level is conscious, where we analyze our data. The third level is superconscious, also part of our unconscious mind, but different from our subconscious. This is where we can touch levels of awareness and ability that are not normally within our purview, whether through our mind or with our bodies.

Each of these parts operates in a different time continuum. Perception, whether through sight, touch or sound, is in the present moment. Thought tends to be in the past, focused on analysis of already old data. Mushtaq Ali talks of slicing time, where this becomes a heuristic process of interpretation based on past experience. Meanwhile, superconscious awareness tends to future pace by reading energy on a multiplicity of levels and strategizing before consciousness even becomes aware of what is unfolding.

The act of mindfulness brings together these three parts by focusing on the present moment. This allows one to act through the unconscious parts of oneself, coupling awareness with programming while bypassing the slower control of the conscious mind. Free of the struggle to maintain control, the conscious mind can analyze results and provide feedback to the faster real-time operational processes. For most of us it takes practice to learn to trust and let go so we can operate on automatic like this.

The majority of people get sucked into projecting what they want to happen, concentrating on their thoughts, which can be looking at the future or stuck in the past rather than being present in the moment. Martial arts is about doing, and being able to flow in the present moment without getting caught out of time. If you think about what you will do, you are not paying attention. If you are thinking about what you did, even worse, because you can repeat that loop endlessly while your opponent notices you aren't paying attention. There is a time for asking questions, but it is not in the middle of doing. One must always be doing the most appropriate thing RIGHT NOW, not "then" or anywhen else. (Hey, I just coined a new word for myself! :))

Furthermore, most people already know the answers to their questions somewhere inside but are looking to have it explained to them or validated externally. This will never be as deep a knowingness as finding it in themselves, and so doing a movement until it is self-acknowledged is the way to gain mastery over it. If one is mindfull, this is not boring. Each movement varies from its predecessors. Each moment is an exact opportunity to make it better, take it to another level. Each time one practices a move, neurons fire and reproduce a pattern that strengthens the most efficient pathways. By being mindful, one develops better proprioceptive or kinesthetic awareness about weight, balance, shifting, timing, power.

As a teacher, I can bring these things to a student's attention. I cannot, however, make them recognize the truth of any of it unless they actually look for themselves. The Serrada certificate has at the top an open lock with a key. Angel said he gave us the keys, it was up to us to unlock the knowledge. If I make a correction to a move and someone does it once or twice, or immediately goes on to something else without a thought for it at all, or just starts asking for more stuff without acknowledging what I've just given them to learn, then communication has been lost. Until a student tries the key offered to see what door opens, there is no organic progression of knowledge leading to the next inherent step. This is not one-size-fits-all teaching, either. It is interactive coaching.

An analogy for learning is like flying an aircraft. One makes a correction, then corrects the correction. Through a continuous process of adjusting previous maneuvers, one arrives at a destination. When students practice what I give them, it is like a template against which I can monitor the change and rate at which it occurs, then make further adjustments to dial in a particular attribute of performance.

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